**It’s an extended metaphor**
Teaching is a funny game. It’s one of those jobs which, by its nature, gives you insights that you wouldn’t otherwise have. Thanks to the large swathes of young humanity with which you deal on a daily basis, patterns emerge; they swirl around you, not unlike shoals of silver fish, caught on camera. We teachers see the shapes children create as they make their way through our classrooms that we parents can’t.
Every so often, though, something happens to pierce the distance, to bring the shoal closer, and we see the individuals, those little ones so apparent to their parents, uniform in uniforms but each one unique. We see the strong and the talented. We see the disadvantaged, those who could be at the front, but for their circumstances. We see the weak. The slow. The Nemos of the school, the ones with broken bits, or bits that don’t quite work properly. The included children. Something happens and all of a sudden, there they are, brightly coloured, vivid against the everlasting silver, doing their best to keep up, to swim in the deeps along with the others.
Most of the time I manage to negotiate the sea swell of school well enough, especially now that I am swimming in it again, rather than standing on the shore, without even the slightest ripple touching my toes. It’s a strange, enclosed little world, warm, shallow waters that most of the time make me feel safe. I understand the language that rules the waves here; I, too, swim with the shoal. When my own tribe make remarks I have no fear in calling them on it, reminding them of the individuality of all our little fish, reminding them of what I know they know.
But every so often, I venture out to the ocean, away from the ever undulating swell and swirl of the shoal, and head to the deep. It’s not my choice to go there. If it were up to me I’d never set foot near the place, but, because my little nemo has needs that can’t be served here in the familiar shallow waters, to the unfamiliar we must go.
But there in the shadows, there in the murky depths, lurk the jellyfish.
The thing about jellyfish is that you’re never sure they’re there until you step right into its path. There you were, swimming along, taking care of your little angel fish making sure he’s ok and BAM. A sting.
You aren’t aware of it at first. At first, you smile, nod, and leave, but later, when you return to your own element you realise that you are wounded. Fish are forgetful, you see. We forget that other ocean creatures don’t see the world as we do. We forget that, because they see the nemos all the time they see the patterns the hundreds of little fish not quite like any other make, that the rest of us can’t.
It’s not the ordinary comments that people make that leave me troubled. The ‘he’ll always be with you’ kind, the sort meant to comfort me with the dubious privilege of constant parenting, leave me exasperated but cold. Rather than hurting, they leave me feeling somewhat exhausted at the prospect of the level of education I ought to be carrying out. (Except I’m sitting on my sofa tippy tappying away, not even investigating the mysteries of SEO.)
No, the stings that sting the worst come from those jellyfish who wear a cloak of knowledge. Similar to mine, but different. They bandy around terms that frighten me, remind me that even though I don’t, there are many many other people who see my nemo as a problem, a diagnosis, a label. Their language pretends that my son isn’t an individual, it hides the reasons behind his behaviour or his problems with hearing, speaking, eating, drinking, walking, running, jumping. It stops me understanding and finding a way to, if not fix, then find a creative way around whatever is on the list this week.
And so, stung, I swim back to the familiar. I head back to the world I know, the place where the future is as yet unwritten, uncharted, free from fear.